FASD: Preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Facing the Just One Glass Myth: Moderation is not prevention.
I remember being pregnant with my first child and feeling a little shocked when my doctor said that I could have “a few beers with my friends, just don’t over do it”. Fast forward 12 years to child #2 and I thought for sure medical science had changed. After all, we’re told stay away from second hand smoke, don’t get tattoos, don’t eat raw honey – don’t do anything that might transfer something harmful to your growing child. But, sure enough, my new doctor said basically the same thing.
“If I were you, I’d have a glass of red wine in the evening to calm down the heartburn.” I asked how that could be safe for the baby who would be drinking it with me. She laughed and said, “If you followed every new guideline you’d be miserable your whole pregnancy! Don’t worry, one glass at night is fine.” Luckily, I didn’t listen to her.
I was recently asked, as part of a campaign with Brandfluential, to attend a set of webinars presented by MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to spread awareness about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). The first webinar centered around information on what exactly FASD is and how to prevent it, featuring in depth research and information from Jeffrey R. Wozniak, Ph.D., Associate Professor Department of Psychiatry University of Minnesota.
What is FASD?
FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. There are many terms under the FASD umbrella, including these medical diagnoses:
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorders (ARND)
- Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
- Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
FASD is a lifetime disability that affects each child differently. Some children with an FASD have specific facial features and tend to be smaller in height and weight. They often have brain injury that never goes away. This means both the child’s thought process and his behavior may be very different than a child who was not exposed to alcohol before birth. The brain damage is the most challenging part of this disability.
How Can FASD Be Prevented?
Many of the secondary disorders of FASD (as seen above) can be triggered with as little as ‘one drink’ as early as 7 days into pregnancy. And a single binge drinking incident (4 drinks within 2 hours) can cause profound damage to a developing brain.
With the possibility of a disorder having such a massive impact on a child, why do women still drink? In the US, 13% knowingly drink some alcohol while pregnant. 1% drink heavily while pregnant and 3-4% binge drink during pregnancy. There is also the problem of defining ‘one glass’. 60 % of women “over-pour” or underestimate the size of a drink and a commonly used ‘balloon’ wine glass actually contains 2 – 3 times more alcohol than a standard drink.
Because of these misconceptions and other issues, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affects 1 in every 1,000 live births. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (all ranges) affect an estimated 2% – 5% of births. Drinking while pregnant means you are accepting a 2% – 5% risk of your child having FASD. Many people also have the misconception of ‘They drink all the time in Europe and they’re okay.” In reality, the rate for FASD in Italy is even higher – as much as 6.3% of all births.
The only way to prevent FASD is to completely avoid alcohol while you are pregnant, if you are attempting to become pregnant or if you are not taking precautions to avoid pregnancy. [source] Anything else is a gamble with your unborn child’s mental and physical health.
What if, when you became pregnant, your doctor said, “Every time you drink a glass of wine, a beer or a cocktail you increase your child’s chances of having to live with: substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, anti-social disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities and sleeping disorders.”
Your doctor SHOULD say that. Those are all secondary problems that an FASD child has as much as a 73% chance of developing. Are you willing to take that risk for a glass of Pinot?